Disclaimer: not mine, not even a particularly original homage, not for profit, not a good thing to be doing instead of the work I should be concentrating on.
This story was written before Deathly Hallows was released and is therefore now officially very AU. I hope that the presence of a few characters that aren't very common in newer SSHG fics might be entertaining but please be aware that all the characters will seem OOC in the light of more recent reading! In addition, Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration, of which there are five exceptions (one being that food, and therefore presumably drinks other than water, cannot be produced out of thin air) puts a bit of a dent in one of the major magical premises of this fic.
Thanks to LariLee for advice given after my very first attempt to submit a piece of fanfiction to a moderated archive. Huge thanks to Shiv5468 for subsequent hand-holding, and to my beta Melusin.
Chapter 1: No Bubble Bath at the End of a Hard Day.
A swish of pink pastel curtain heralded Healer Granger's entrance to Cubicle Four. She cocked her head to one side and regarded the pale, sweaty face of a man standing awkwardly beside a neatly made hospital bed. He gulped, twitched ever-so-slightly but remained silent. After an uncomfortably pregnant pause, during which time the man twitched three more times, Hermione smirked and raised her left eyebrow.
'Okay, Mr Poppleford, what is it?' asked Hermione.
'I-I beg your pardon?' croaked Twitching Man.
'By my estimate, you've been waiting in this cubicle for half an hour, but you haven't sat down,' stated Hermione dryly. 'This means you are here because of one of two things. Either you have a case of haemorrhoids the size of a nicely ripe bunch of Pinot grapes, or you have something that shouldn't ever be in your rectum, in your rectum.'
Twitching Man winced. Then he twitched. Then he sighed and bowed his head. 'It was all right to begin with, but now it really hurts,' he whispered.
'That may well be the case,' snapped Hermione. 'I've been on shift for fifteen hours of what was supposed to be a twelve hour shift, so all I really want to know is which suction charm to use. You can be shy and make me hang around in this hospital even longer than I have to, or you can tell me quickly, and I'll consider giving you a muscle relaxing potion before I start.'
'A Snitch!' Twitching Man immediately responded.
Hermione let her right eyebrow join its companion. Then her features relaxed into a glowing smile. She Summoned a phial of blue potion with a flick of her wand and handed it to the grateful Snitch-twitcher.
'Excellent, Mr Poppleford! You've just won me fifty Galleons in the monthly, "Who's the first healer to have a patient with something-up-their-arse," pool,' said Hermione. 'Now, remove your robes and bend over.'
While preparing to Apparate from the St Mungo's reception area, Hermione thought longingly of a Radox bubble bath (there were some Muggle things a girl just was not willing to forego), a nice plate of pasta and a foot-massage. On arrival at the Flat, she realised that these things were unlikely to be experienced any time soon. A diving Seamus Finnegan missed Hermione by half an inch, caught a Quaffle that for some reason had flown across the sitting room, and cannoned into the wall.
'Oh, good catch!' exclaimed two voices.
Hermione sighed heavily and turned to face an inanely giggling Ron Weasley and a cross-eyed Dean Thomas. One glance encompassed the dirty socks on the coffee table, the Firewhisky and Butterbeer bottles on the floor and the Chinese takeaway cartons that balanced precariously on every available surface. A drip of black bean sauce happily departed the rim of one carton and made a skilful landing on a huge leather-bound textbook that had been moved from the coffee table to the floor at some point in the last fifteen and a half hours.
As Ron had welcomed Hermione home in a remarkably similar manner on at least seventy percent of Friday nights during the previous year, she was not astonished. She had, however, fucking well had enough of the useless twatting slob that she was going out with.
It took eight minutes to pack a suitcase with clothes, toiletries, four Georgette Heyer novels, the Scourgified medical textbook and a bag containing fifty Galleons. It took 0.23 seconds to Apparate (in a flouncy manner) to a rather nice cottage on the outskirts of Godric's Hollow.
No one came to answer the front door, which puzzled Hermione because light was shining from a couple of windows. After a minute of thought, she put down her suitcase, drew her wand and quietly made her way round the side of the cottage. The garden was enclosed by a tall brick wall that was covered in honeysuckle. In the warm evening air, the scent was rather lovely, but Hermione's attention was focussed on the murmur of quiet conversation that drifted over the wall. Innate nosiness made Hermione cautious (sneaky), so she aimed her wand at the latch of the wooden gate that was set in the wall before her and silently opened it with a spell.
'As you can see, profits are up fifteen percent on the last quarter, and the introductory meetings in Paris went particularly well….Oh, bloody fuck! Potter, have you no concept of security wards?'
Seven startled faces turned towards the opened gate. Hermione took one step forward and then stopped. Never had the phrase "double-take" been more appropriate. She found herself staring at the business end of five wands and heard someone muttering, 'Oh bugger, I've left my wand in the loo.'
'Don't get in a tizzy, Neville. I think we've got this covered,' drawled the owner of a perfect cut-glass, upper-class accent.
A quick peek told Hermione that Draco Malfoy owned the drawl while Ginny Potter, Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin, Remus Lupin and (bloody hell!) Severus Snape owned the other four wands.
'Hermione, please tell me Ron isn't with you,' came the familiar but strained tones of Harry Potter from the direction of a glowing barbeque.
'No, he bloody well is not!' Hermione squeaked. 'Would you put those wands down and tell me what the fuck is going on here?'
Harry puffed out a relieved sigh, making the legs of the sleeping baby he had tucked against his shoulder wobble to and fro. As one, the others collapsed back into their chairs and began to tuck their wands away into pockets and sleeves.
Having been hastily provided with a very comfy garden chair, a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc (expertly conjured by Draco) and a hot dog off the barbeque, Hermione wallowed muddily in the feeling that she had entered some sort of parallel universe. Harry disappeared to put the baby down, making optimistic comments about "sleeping right through" to Ginny on the way. Everyone else sorted themselves out with wine and food as though this was something they did on a regular basis. The crowning glory of weirdness came when Neville passed the mustard to Snape without being asked, receiving murmured thanks without blinking. Things had definitely been going on without Hermione's knowledge, and the thought of being so completely out of the loop stung.
By the time Harry returned, Hermione had eaten two hotdogs and some tasty homemade coleslaw and was beginning to fidget with the need to ask questions. She took a giant slug of Sauvignon and fixed Harry with a determined gaze.
Harry swallowed and cleared his throat. 'So, why are you here then, Hermione?' he asked.
'I've decided to leave Ron, and I need a place to stay,' said Hermione, surprising herself because until that moment, she hadn't actually decided anything but had just… flounced from London to Wales in an almighty huff.
'I'm really sorry, Ginny; I don't want to upset you by slagging off your brother, but I've had enough.'
Just saying the words out loud made Hermione's thoughts crystallise. She found the complete absence of panic disturbing; surely tears and soul-searching were de rigueur in this situation? Then it crossed her mind that the end of a six year relationship should probably be discussed with Ron before it was announced to his best friend, little sister, former teachers and childhood nemesis. Oops.
'Feel free to slag,' Ginny said. 'I'm rude about him all the time, and to be honest we've been waiting for you two to crash and burn for a couple of years now.'
Murmurs of agreement from six comfy garden chairs startled Hermione into action. She glared at the group of supposed arch-enemies, who were sat around her munching barbeque food, and exploded. 'How bloody long have you lot been friendly?' she snapped. 'What else has been going on that I idon't know about?'
Harry blushed faintly and met his friend's eyes with a frown. 'It gradually dawned on me that Stupefying a bloke when he's trying to save your life, refusing to learn from him, then blaming him for the resulting death of your godfather and being furious when he won't try to kill you on request, is not entirely rational behaviour.'
'It was also drawn to my attention that if Voldemort threatened my Mum and Dad with a slow and painful death, I might have followed his orders – especially if they involved killing someone who never even lifted a finger to stop me getting a rather painful and embarrassing tattoo.'
To put it mildly, Hermione was a bit surprised at Harry's change of heart.
Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape had been hastily pardoned following a rather noisy meeting between Remus Lupin, Poppy Pomfrey and a furious Rufus Scrimgeour. Apparently, on the night that Draco let a bunch of crazy Death Eaters into Hogwarts, Dumbledore was half-dead from a Horcrux related curse and definitely on his way out after Harry had force fed him a nasty dose of poison. Unfortunately, the green sparks Snape managed to shoot in Dumbledore's direction while shouting 'Abracadabra!' caused the wildly hallucinating old man to overbalance and fall off the Astronomy Tower. Snape and Draco had made a necessarily sharp exit and ended up continuously feeding the Order of Phoenix intelligence, including some very handy Horcrux hunting tips that Remus passed off as his own research.
During the mayhem that followed Voldemort's downfall, Bellatrix and Rudolfus Lestrange and Fenrir Grayback did runner. Hermione knew that Harry, Neville, Remus, Tonks, Snape and Malfoy Junior were involved in the hunt for the insane-and-proud-of-it trio of Death Eaters. She had automatically assumed that they'd remained hostile, though. Hermione hadn't even heard of the two spies for four years; she thought they had probably gone overseas. Perhaps spending that particular year learning the ins and outs of sex with Ron had distracted her just a little bit…
'Severus and Draco live half a mile away from here, Hermione,' continued Harry. 'We got to know each other better after they were pardoned – while we were rounding up the Death Eaters who escaped after Voldemort died.'
'Don't think we've been having dinner parties the entire time, Granger,' drawled Draco. 'I still think Harry is a bit of a prat, but he did learn to be a good cook. And if Neville hadn't developed such an irresistible six-pack, I'd be impervious to his charms, too.'
Hermione choked on her wine; Neville blushed until he resembled the glowing barbeque charcoal while Snape's snort effortlessly conveyed contempt. Ginny merely smiled at Hermione before passing her a fresh napkin and slapping her on the back.
'We're not winning any popularity contests even though the Ministry cleared us and used our…unique skills set to round up the last of the Death Eaters,' Snape continued smoothly, once Hermione had cleared her airway and wiped her eyes.
'Potter, in his disgustingly decent way, thinks that we should have a fair shot at a normal life, if at all possible. We therefore run a Potions company: Harry and Draco provided the start-up costs. I brew the potions. Draco takes care of the paperwork and Ginny does the face-to-face sales meetings. We've been running for three years now, and you've just interrupted our half-year meeting.'
'If this is a business meeting, then why are you here?' asked Hermione, glaring at Neville, Tonks and Remus.
'One of our products is Wolfsbane Potion,' began Remus. 'I co-ordinate monthly orders and provide private counselling for newer cases and their families. I'm afraid Fenrir Grayback was a busy bastard during the last year of the war, and the year after that, but we charge an affordable amount, and most of the families are well able to cope. Dora keeps us up-to-date with opinions within the Ministry and deals with anyone who becomes interested in Potions manufacturers working out of Wales.'
'Aurors work very closely with the Obliviators; thanks to a spot of "job-shadowing", I'm better at altering memories than Gilderoy Lockhart ever was.' Tonks grinned unabashedly.
'I help out with ingredients,' added Neville. 'A lot of the work with plants is needed when Hogwarts is out for the summer, so I'm shoring up my pathetic teaching salary, and I get paid to travel and collect some of the more exotic stuff. As far as Minerva knows, I'm visiting my Gran and backpacking the whole time.'
'And keeping your tummy flat,' said Draco with a satisfied air.
Harry rolled his eyes at Hermione, but his lack of surprise or disgust told her that this joke had been running for a long, long time.
Hermione was seething internally. They all looked so bloody happy. She knew Harry and Ginny had subsided into affluent domestic bliss, far enough away from Molly Weasley's nagging. Although it was only a few days after a full moon, Remus looked well fed and well rested. Tonks was gently stroking the back of his neck with the contented smile of a woman who was having regular, wonderful sex. Neville had grown into a strapping man with broad shoulders and a year-round tan from tending the plants at Hogwarts as Herbology Professor, and apparently, regular foreign travel. Draco Malfoy had never been hard on the eye. He sat elegantly sipping chilled white wine, dressed in leather sandals, a lovely pair of linen trousers and a blue shirt that made his eyes the colour of a stormy sea. Hmmmm, the man can dress.
Even Snape appeared to have gained weight, washed his hair and been hit with a stray dental charm or two. Hermione watched him push his chair away from the table and stretch his long legs out. Light from the various candles that hung in the air over their heads glinted off ornate silver buckles on the side of his dragon-hide boots. The sleeves of Snape's linen shirt were rolled up, revealing well muscled forearms with ridiculously smooth, pale skin and a dusting of black hair. Noticing Hermione's thoughtful gaze, Snape raised an eyebrow in her direction. Hermione's thoughts yelped in response. I am definitely dreaming; my hair is greasier than Snape's, and I'm sitting here wearing ridiculous lime-green scrubs while he looks…mmmm, rather nice, actually.
'I still don't understand why you couldn't tell me!' Hermione's voice approached a whine at terminal velocity. 'What's wrong with me?'
The strange collection of individuals before her either ducked their heads or strategically hid their grins behind hands and wineglasses. Hedgehog Hermione's soft tummy was bared. As always, when faced with unexpected information, brains, bossiness and bravado took to the hills, leaving insecurity exposed for all to see. By unspoken agreement, Ginny took up the conversation.
'Its not you that's the problem, honey. If you'd known, you would either have felt duty bound to tell Ron, or you would have let something slip by accident. He'd be bound to strop out and start raising hell with us and mouthing off to Mum. She would have told everyone she could possibly think of, and the whole idea would have been ruined faster than you can say, "My Mum is a loudmouthed busybody who can't let go of the past!" '
Hermione groaned, acknowledging that Ginny was absolutely right, and accepted a refilling charm from Draco. She sat back, moodily kicked off her trainers and tucked her feet up, contemplating life. The past five years had been spent immersed in successful medical training and failed Ron training. Newly qualified meant a salary (wicked!); it meant a fancy title (Healer Granger still sounded odd to her ears), but it also meant 60 hours a week minimum, and loads more learning. She had become isolated; Ron spent most of his time with his buddies from the Department of Magical Games and Sports while Harry had been having a wonderful time playing house-husband and having barbeques with his new best friends. A surge of pure envy shot through Hermione's system like adrenaline. When was she going to stop being so boring and lonely?
The wine was really nice, though, and the plate of cheesecake that Tonks passed her hit the spot. Lulled by the sound of bumble bees and the smell of honeysuckle, Hermione nodded off in her comfy garden chair, and the others left her alone while they finished their meeting.
At some point, somebody lifted the sleeping Hermione out of her chair and carried her inside to bed. She rolled her head against a linen-clad shoulder and mumbled, 'Suitcase…out front...' before inhaling a deep breath of spicy aftershave, sighing contentedly, and falling back to sleep.
1. Diagnosis of experimentation with an inanimate object through observation that the patient has been standing in a hospital cubicle for a long time, comes from season 1 of House (in that case the problem was caused by an MP3 player). I figured that tiny silver wings might cause curiosity, but that discomfort and low-level twitching was likely after a while – if not massive internal bleeding.
2. Radox is a well known brand of herbal bath salts and bubble baths in the UK, famous for soothing tired muscles. I don't know if it is available in the USA.